Bigfanboy.com critics Gary Murray and Steve Friedel take a look at Garry Marshall’s newest romantic comedy.
Gary Murray’s review:
Garry Marshall is best known for ruling the TV waves in the 1970’s. His Happy Days and all their progeny gave the world hundreds of hours of small screen laughs. In the years since, he has also become a very successful film director, with flicks like Pretty Woman and Overboard. His latest is the ensemble comedy Valentine’s Day, a flick so full of naive charm that it just works.
The story of Valentine’s Day is much more drawn out than a simple description can contain. The film centers around Reed (Ashton Kutcher), a young man who owns a flower shop on the busiest day of the year. As our little story opens, he has just proposed to his girlfriend (Jessica Alba), and she has accepted. Reed calls his best friend Julia (Jennifer Garner), a teacher who has just started a relationship with a doctor. She is best friends with Kara (Jessica Biel), a sports agent with a client contemplating retirement. She works with Paula (Queen Latifah), who has an assistant Liz (Anne Hathaway), who also has a new relationship with Jason (Topher Grace). Added to this mix is a kid in Julia’s class who shops at the flower store. We also get the grandparents, the baby sitter and her friends, co-workers and spouses all thrown into the mix. On a plane is Grace (Julia Roberts), an Army woman trying to make it home. Jamie Foxx plays a sports reporter assigned to do a fluff piece on Valentine’s Day that brings him into contact with Reed. Confused yet?
All of these plot threads tie together in a Six Degrees of Separation mode of storytelling. Under the skillful hands of Garry Marshall, it just flows seamlessly.
With so many in the cast, it becomes hard to choose degrees of performance in the art of acting. We have Academy Award winners like Julia Roberts, Shirley MacClaine and Kathy Bates with equal amounts of screen time with very novice performers. Though I was pleasantly surprised by young Taylor Swift as the best buddy of Emma Roberts. Her scenes with Taylor Lautner are authentic in depicting young love. She brings a “Gee whiz, I’m in a movie!” overwhelming sensibility that bubbles charm.
Anne Hathaway once again shows some serious comic chops as the young poetry graduate doing everything she can to make ends meet, much to the chagrin of her new special friend. Their little dance of understanding what it takes to build a relationship of love.
Best of all screen legend Shirley MacClaine gives audiences a turn as the happily married grandmother with a few secrets of her own in the past. She steals just every scene she is in, even playing against a younger version of herself.
Valentine’s Day is across between Love, American Style and Short Cuts, but without the cuteness of the former nor the bitterness of the latter. Garry Marshall takes all these different elements and still makes a compelling story. He frames LA in the best of light, giving the city a vibrant charm. He also lets different elements play out in a natural context, making sure than not every plot point is easily guessed. Some of our connections never make the kind of hook-up one expects. There are enough pleasant surprises peppered throughout this film to give even the most jaded viewer something to ponder.
The film is a Valentine’s Day box of chocolate, meaning you never know what you are going to get. And like candy, it is a trifle, something that satisfies the senses more than the body. This is a chick flick from the word go, but it is still of a change of pace to be enjoyed by the guys who have to be dragged to see it.
And now, Steve Friedel offers a different perspective
Let me mention upfront that I’m as much a romantic as the next guy — the next guy being somewhere between Casanova and Harry Burns (Billy Crystal’s curmudgeon in 1989’s When Harry Met Sally… one of my favorites). But I really do hate Valentine’s Day — or at least the big, damned hafta-spend-too-much commercial behemoth it’s become over the last few years (I mean, have you SEEN all the diamond ads these days?). I honestly thought it could get no worse… well, until Garry Marshall (The Princess Diaries) — and his inexperienced writer Katherine Fugate (The Prince & Me), along with two scribes from last year’s train wreck He’s Just Not That Into You — decided to make a movie about it.
Only a distant cousin to its BY-EONS better British cousin Love Actually (2003), it’s a mish-mash of relationship segments: A doctor (Patrick Dempsey, Enchanted) and his schoolteacher girlfriend (Jennifer Garner, Juno); Garner’s flower guy friend (Ashton Kutcher, What Happens in Vegas) and his new fiancee (Jessica Alba, The Love Guru); a phone-sex professional (Anne Hathaway, The Devil Wears Prada) and her unknowing new boyfriend (Topher Grace, Spider-Man 3); an army captain on her way home from war (Julie Roberts, Duplicity) and her seatmate (Bradley Cooper, The Hangover); a public relations / fellow V-day hater (Jessica Biel, Next) and her pro football client on the edge of retirement (Eric Dane, Marley & Me); an old Hollywood couple (Marshall’s lucky charm Hector Elizondo and Shirley MacLaine, In Her Shoes) dealing with a lovesick grandson (Bryce Robinson, Marley & Me); a high school jock (Taylor Lautner, New Moon) and goofy girlfriend (country music star Taylor Swift); and Jamie Foxx (The Soloist) as a secondary sportscaster saddled with doing a story on the day’s goings-on. There are a few more, but frankly this list got too damned tiring to write about; it’s just as exhausting to watch, too. And as each mini-story unfolds — SURPRISE! — we gradually come to realize one is related to another, with most of the connections not sprung on the audience until the last 30 minutes or so (and the “AH-HAs” were aplenty); by then, however, you probably don’t care anyway — either because you’re so entertained by the individual stories that those “connections” appear a bit extraneous (if forced) or you’re so beaten down by the film as a whole that you simply can’t wait to get outta the theater (guess which side I landed on).
Sure, Marshall may have gathered a bunch of “A-listers” (more like B-minus-listers, I’d say) — which begs the question “HOW?” when he hasn’t done much of anything worth note in a very, very long time — but I’d argue after seeing this mess that he’s not skilled enough to know what to do with them. Toss in some very poor editing choices, and after awhile it’s hard to decide which narrative I liked the least. For me, the end-result is no better than if Marshall had tossed all those names up in the air, watched them fall, and saw which ones landed closest to each other. It feels THAT desperately random, especially when you factor in the absolute lack of chemistry between any of players. Not even at-the-time-of filming dating Taylors looked all that comfortable with each other; probably didn’t help that neither can act their way out of a pink paper envelope, but that’s beside the point. Meanwhile, you’ve got what has to be the dumbest storyline (amongst a whole batch of bad story-telling) belonging to Hathaway’s sex-talker, disguising her voice as a Southern belle or a Russian dominatrix; you can only imagine how her prissy businessman beau reacts when he finds out (and the trombone whines “WAH-WAH-WAAAAAH!”). Then there are the countless “aw shucks” moments, especially involving Kutcher, Garner, and their respective dilemmas; and as good of friends as their characters are supposed to be, they both blunder miserably because they write off each other’s opinions about the relationships they’re in — how strong could their friendship be if they let each other fall prey to questionable choices?
As I mentioned earlier, do yourself a big favor and rent Love Actually instead of seeing this gimmicky, grand-scale gaffe. Yes, it’s a Christmas-themed flick, but it’s full of all-star actors (Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, and Bill Nighy to name a few) portraying characters in worthwhile (and also intertwined) love-injected situations you actually CARE about. All I can say about Valentine’s Day — by a bare comparison — is that it DOES have the all-star actors.